Friday, January 31, 2014

Exploiting Feminine Stereotypes to Gain Power?

Tracy has already discussed Joan Williams's WaPo essay.  But I thought I might add my two cents (or one cent, whatever).  First, an excerpt from said WaPo essay:  

When asked at a September fundraiser in San Francisco how she manages as a woman in the Senate, Kirsten Gillibrand explained that most senators are older men, so they see her as a daughter. Rather than dismissing her, they have been helpful and protective, especially when she was pregnant while serving in the House. In this way, the New York Democrat is able to translate something relatively unfamiliar and potentially threatening — a female senator — into something comfortable and familiar. That comfort level allows her to build relationships and get other senators’ support for legislation.

And this: 

Powerful women often take feminine stereotypes that can hold women back — the selfless mother and the dutiful daughter, for example — and use those stereotypes to propel themselves forward. I call it gender judo. The martial art of judo, which means “gentle way” in Japanese, focuses on using your opponent’s momentum to overpower him.

I quite understand and respect Tracy's dissatisfaction with this view.  At the same time, from the perspective of a social scientist (yeah, "scientist,"....), I am intrigued by what "power" means in such contexts.  I mean, sure, there is the surface familiarity of traditional gender hierarchy.  Yet, on closer examination, who is exerting power on whom?  Or, is even asking such a question too simplistic?  

Judo (as in what Williams calls "Gender Judo"), after all, is different from other martial arts or boxing; it relies principally on redistributing the opponent's weight against her in lieu of direct assault.  And like all martial arts, victory is whenever you have subdued your opponent, however that's done.  Sounds kinda.....masculine.

Manliness, Masculinities, Workplace | Permalink


Two reactions: 1) I have no reason to doubt Williams' research. And I think that women are often weighing their options when figuring out how to be effective. Sometimes the end may justify the means, and one may actually feel that one has succeeded by playing at "gender judo." 2). The fact that "gender judo" may be required is profoundly depressing. And playing to gender stereotypes, even for a good cause, does nothing to change the underlying problem.

Posted by: Susan Apel | Jan 31, 2014 8:12:46 AM

I found the article very troubling. Best way to express this is to provide below a headline paraphrased from an actual "pro Gender Judo" tweet from this past week. Would this article be published by a mainstream news outlet and would it be promoted as a "great tool" for young professionals just starting their careers?

"The Art of Using [Racist] Workplace Attitudes To Your Professional Advantage"

Interesting tweet (critical of Gender Judo) by woman diplomat and Brookings Fellow at

Very astute comment from POV of minority male professional in Washington Post Comments Section for the “Gender Judo” article. See "Jay Taylor"1/28/2014 6:54 p.m.

Posted by: Maureen Murphy | Jan 31, 2014 3:44:27 PM

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